San Jose lawmakers discuss combatting rise in rapes
Former San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia is pictured in this file photo.

    After examining a report by the San Jose Police Department on a spike in rapes across the city, lawmakers serving on a public safety committee Thursday wanted to know why victims avoid law enforcement and other hurdles with solving cases.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo also devoted $750,000 to help police leaders increase resources to address the rise in rapes.

    The number of reported rapes in San Jose has nearly tripled within the last ten years according to FBI data provided by the city, spiking from 220 in 2008 to 615 in 2018. Authorities pointed to numerous trends that may have played a role in the rise in sexual assaults over the years.

    Angelie Montesa, a SJPD crime and intelligence analyst for the Sexual Assaults Unit, presented decades of statistics detailing reports of sexual assault in San Jose and in cities of comparative size in California and outside of the state. The data showed a sharp increase in sexual assault cases after the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting’s revised definition of sexual assault took effect in 2015.

    Montesa noted that it took a year for San Jose to follow the revised UCR definition, which was put in place in 2014.

    Before 2014, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting organization’s definition of a rape was “the carnal knowledge of a female forcible and against her will. Carnal knowledge is defined as the act of a man having sexual bodily connections with a women; sexual intercourse.”

    The revised definition classified any penetration with a sex organ of an orifice in someone’s body without their consent as rape.

    Police officials pointed out that social movements such as #MeToo and population growth in the city might have also led to the rise in rapes.

    After addressing potential reasons for the troubling trend, police officials on Thursday presented data about arrests they’ve made, cases they’ve cleared and the demographics of survivors and perpetrators.

    Police and councilmembers noted that the number of cases were far higher than the number of arrests.

    San Jose police leaders said other law enforcement agencies had presented misleading statistics on their case clearance rates that did not portray actual arrests of suspects. While rape reports have gone up, clearance rates have plateaued, Montesa said.

    For a case to be cleared, police are required to have arrested the suspect and turned the case over to the District Attorney’s Office to file charges. To be cleared by “exceptional means,” elements beyond law enforcement’s control must have prevented law enforcement from making an arrest of an identified suspect.

    From 2014 to 2016, San Jose police investigated 459 cases and cleared 11% of them with an arrest or conviction and only 2% by exceptional means.

    “The UCR clearance rate was simply not designed to create a complete assessment of law enforcement effectiveness,” Montesa said.

    Councilmember Sylvia Arenas asked for more details about what prevented child sexual assault victims from cooperating with police.

    Several councilmembers wanted to know how overcrowding in homes across San Jose may play a role, while others were concerned about the disproportionate amount of sexual assault reports from Asians compared to other ethnicities.

    Lt. Brian Anderson of the Sexual Assaults Unit said the SJPD is making an effort to recruit more bilingual speakers to improve investigations, but it’s challenging to recruit people for the type of work the unit does. “Sexual assault investigation is a tough crime to investigate and it’s mentally waring upon those who choose to tackle and join that unit,” Anderson said.

    San Jose lawmakers called on police officials to improve prevention programs and increase funding for law enforcement. However, at least 38% of sexual assault cases are stalled by a lack of victim cooperation, SJPD data showed.

    While most of the focus Thursday centered around obstacles faced by victims, Councilmember Johnny Khamis asked if police could also measure whether released felons under Proposition 47 and 57 had contributed to the rise.

    Police officials said researching Proposition 57’s effect should be a separate study, and Arenas said that work should not be addressed before other questions.

    Also on Thursday, Liccardo proposed a $750,000 allocation of funds to support the San Jose Police Department’s work-plan to combat sexual assault. Police Chief Eddie Garcia said the Sexual Assaults Unit is fully staffed with 21 officers, but said he would like 10 additional investigators and two sergeants.

    Police leaders are also working with researchers from the University of Texas San Antonio to address the questions.

    Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman said that even if a victim doesn’t want to press charges, collecting evidence is essential and a forensic examination can still be conducted without having to report who the perpetrator was.

    “We would never want anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault to think that whether or not the DA’s office files criminal charges means that they were or were not a victim of sexual assault,” said Harman.

    Contact San José Spotlight intern Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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